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Nevada Republican Party united on one thing: complaint against Shelley Berkley

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Leila Navidi

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev. walks into the new Nevada Democratic Party Field Office on primary election night in Henderson on Tuesday, June 12, 2012.

Published Wed, Jul 11, 2012 (2 a.m.)

Updated Wed, Jul 11, 2012 (12:03 p.m.)

Chalk this one up as the blind squirrel happening upon the proverbial nut.

In a year when the Nevada Republican Party has been noted almost exclusively for its dysfunction, it may have gotten it together long enough to pull off at least one coup.

Last September, two weeks after the New York Times published an investigation into whether U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley pushed for polices that would benefit her husband’s medical practice, the Nevada Republican Party filed a detailed complaint against her with the Office of Congressional Ethics.

That simple action — usually characteristic of a finely tuned campaign machine — now has some potential to help Republicans take over the majority in the U.S. Senate. And it may be a lone bright spot for a state party that continues to be plagued by problems.

Click to enlarge photo

Outgoing Nevada State GOP chairwoman Amy Tarkanian and State GOP chair hopeful Michael McDonald descend the stairs from a meeting with campaign representatives Sunday morning. They take a look at the caucus ballot counting going on below as they come downstairs. David McGowan, Rick Santorum's campaign director, comes down the stairs behind them.

“Imagine that,” said Amy Tarkanian, who as chairwoman of the state party in 2011 signed the complaint against Berkley.

In a fairly unusual move after reviewing a subsequent report from the Office of Congressional Ethics, the House Ethics Committee has formed a subcommittee to launch a formal investigation into whether Berkley broke house rules when she lobbied to protect Medicare reimbursement rates for kidney care and joined with the rest of the Nevada delegation to help save the sole kidney transplant center in Las Vegas.

Berkley’s husband, Dr. Larry Lehrner, is a nephrologist whose practice had a contract with University Medical Center, which houses the transplant center, to provide kidney care.

The fact that the ethics committee formed a subcommittee isn’t an indication that Berkley is guilty of crossing ethical boundaries, and she has maintained her work was motivated by protecting patient care, not her family’s finances. As her campaign points out, Berkley has been a fierce advocate for better health care on a number of fronts.

Still, the committee’s action means Berkley will have to contend with a formal ethics investigation hanging over her head for the duration of her Senate campaign against Sen. Dean Heller.

The race, which so far has been fought on a razor-thin margin, is one of the most closely watched in the country. It is one of a handful that will determine whether Democrats keep control of the Senate.

Tarkanian said the case first came to her attention when a former RNC finance chairman and Nevada Senate candidate John Chachas emailed her the New York Times story. She then worked with the national party and former state party Executive Director David Gallagher to craft the complaint.

“We worked together with national to make sure the verbiage was OK, I stamped it, and we sent it out,” Tarkanian said.

Most often, such complaints are a campaign ploy that result in a few press releases and maybe an ad or two. Usually they involve the Federal Election Commission, which typically moves at glacial speed and has a hard time winning a majority on the politically split panel to take action.

The ethics complaint against Berkley, however, is more than just a press release in the making. In the past three years, the committee has opened only one other formal investigation after receiving a report from the Office of Congressional Ethics, which most often reviews information from multiple sources in crafting its report. That report won't be public until the committee finishes its work.

Still, the ethics complaint isn’t exactly an unknown to Berkley, who launched her Senate campaign with the full knowledge that it would be something with which she would have to contend. And her campaign has carefully planned for how to deal with it.

But for the Nevada Republican Party, the decision to file the complaint was a high point.

Indeed, the state party — which is now plagued by in-fighting, a rogue contingent of Ron Paul loyalists and an embattled chairman — appeared to be on the path to better organization under Tarkanian, who was compelled to resign when her husband decided to run for Congress.

As one insider put it: “Those were our glory days.”

This story has been edited to better explain the role of the Office of Congressional Ethics.

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Discussion: 14 comments so far…

  1. Nevada is much like a developing 3rd world nation. It is far lacking in its infrastructure, and has grown in population but did not step up to the plate to encourage doctors and medical facilities in line with the exponential growth. As a matter of fact, Nevada has been discouraging doctors and research clinics, unjustly turning them away and the services that they provide. Congresswoman Berkley on the other hand, "...has maintained her work was motivated by protecting patient care, not her family's finances. As her campaign points out, Berkley has been a fierce advocate for better health care on a number of fronts."

    Year after year, Shelly Berkley has had Nevadans and Americans first and foremost in her actively promoting quality and increased medical care. Just look at the new Veteran's Hospital. Every television interview in her career has always had her addressing medical care for our citizens! Both R's and D's have NOT made such efforts, making THEM look bad, so they are motivated to try and tear down the credibility of Shelly Berkley. In my humble opinion, in my observations since moving to this state. When it comes to talking about my medical care in this state and country, Congresswoman Shelly Berkley is speaking for me in our government. I am in good hands, because she genuinely CARES!!! The rest of those career politicians only give repeated lip service. Both parties. Most citizens are grateful for Shelly standing up for them as their voice in government.

    So many folks had been left with having to leave Nevada for medical care before Shelly Berkley came to the scene. Had Congresswoman Shelly Berkley not supported those who require live-giving kidney services, those folks would surely suffer more, even die.

    Congresswoman Berkley was faced with a dilemma--to either abandon those in medical crisis, those who are unable to drive across state lines for medical care, or to set in place services for these folks. As any of you know, there is RISK in any thing one does, especially when in business and dealing with the public. The offerings to provide services was open to everyone, each party calculated their level of participation and exposure to risk. As it turns out, the NEED for kidney services was not only there, but has opened the door for others to now safely venture into it with less risk because need and care has been established. Nevada has a growing population of folks needing kidney care facilities that will continue expanding.

    We all should be "united on one thing." That is FOR quality of life for Nevada and American Citizens!

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star